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Daisy Foote's domestic drama about a New England family works well enough -- but needs to be longer. logo
Sarah Lord and Tasha Lawrence in Bhutan
(© Chip Porter)
In the program bio of her new play, Bhutan, Daisy Foote mentions she's the daughter of playwright Horton Foote. She undoubtedly means to express gratitude for her 90-year-old dad's inspiration and genes; however, she may not realize that the citation can seem to some like a not so subtle request for leniency in judging her work. Well, Bhutan is proof that Daisy Foote is a solid dramatist in her own right; in fact, she's advanced past promising and landed firmly on established.

This doesn't mean the 85-minute play feels like a finished work yet. At the moment, it gives the impression of being a strong blueprint for an even better, longer play -- one that would revealingly delve further into the psyches of the four characters introduced and nailed with Foote's finely tuned ear for telling dialogue.

The combative players are Mary Conroy (Tasha Lawrence), her sister Sara (Amy Redford, whose father, Robert, is not noted in her bio), and Mary's teenage children Warren (Jedadiah Schultz) and Frances (Sarah Lord), all of whom live in a small New Hampshire town called Tremont. Because Foote's story is about people trapped in their mundane lives -- with the Asian country of Bhutan symbolizing liberation from daily circumstance -- most of the action takes place in the Conroys' claustrophobic kitchen. (Laura Hyman's design includes an aging oven with a bruise-like rusted patch on its side that you can't stop looking at.)

The only time Foote has her characters leave the basic playing area is when Frances and Warren sit down stage, isolated by lighting designer Pat Dignan. In those moments, Frances is visiting Warren in prison, although the reason for his being behind bars isn't explained for the longest time. (The play's action is shown in scenes that sometimes flash confusingly backward and forward in time. Should Foote lengthen her script, she might want to find out a way to clarify what's taking place when.)

While the Conroy clan hang out in the shabby kitchen or while Frances and Warren catch up during weekly visiting hours, the topics discussed -- sometimes too casually for dramatic tension to mount -- are limited. There's nothing wrong with that since it mirrors the circumscribed involvements people often tend to have in real life. Mary talks about her late husband, Charlie, and his plumbing business. Warren goes on about loving, losing, and winning back (unseen) girlfriend Anna. Sara grouses about her longtime beau, Walter, who dumped her to marry a woman he'd only known for two weeks. Frances gabs about the 70-year-old next-door neighbor who has often left town and seen the world, with Bhutan being only one of her stops.

Eventually, Mary and Sara fall out over the proceeds from land they've inherited. Mary intends to spend the money on a lawyer who'll spring Warren, while Sara just needs the dough to live. And Frances -- whose tale Foote intends Bhutan to be -- decides whether or not to fly from her Tremont prison.

The cast members, who have been directed by Evan Yionoulis to flaunt their hard edges, bring out the desperation in Foote's lines with precision. Frustration, anger, and fading hope can be viewed in both their eyes and postures. Although Redford is working effortfully to pinion her lower-class loser, Lawrence, Schultz, and Lord are on target throughout. There is one drawback, though; only Lawrence has the New England accent firmly in her grasp.

As long as Daisy Foote is looking to her father as a model -- and more power to her on that account -- she might recall that he's usually adhered to some traditional playwriting rules. They often call for two acts in order to get said what needs to be said. However, since we live in sound-bite times where audiences like to get in and out quickly, the compact play is in vogue. Nevertheless, the already accomplished Bhutan deserves -- and needs -- more to make its point. Perhaps the younger Foote will make Dad proud by supplying it.

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